Mutual respect between White Rock protesters, police
A peaceful protest that briefly blocked the train tracks in White Rock during the weekend led to arrests and fines for some of the participants.
But Peter Nix, a member of British Columbians for Climate Action, a group opposing the use of fossil fuels and the shipping of coal through B.C. for export from Roberts Bank and Prince Rupert, said the rally succeeded in delaying the one coal train that arrived during the day-long protest on the waterfront.
Nix, a retired environmental scientist from Vancouver Island, was among 13 protesters arrested by White Rock RCMP around 6 p.m. Saturday, after they walked onto the tracks to stop the coal train.
Gus Melonas, director of public affairs for BNSF – which obtained a B.C. Supreme Court injunction against the protest in advance – said the train was stopped approximately 150 feet short of the demonstrators, near the white rock, to avoid any chance of injury.
After police warned the protesters they would be subject to arrest if they did not leave the tracks, some refused.
Thirteen were removed by police without incident, taken to the White Rock RCMP detachment and fined $115 for trespassing on railway property.
Melonas said the coal train was held for between 10 and 15 minutes in total. Other rail traffic had passed during the day, he said, noting the “demonstrators were peaceful and respectful of railway property,” and “did not disrupt traffic flow.”
Melonas said subsequent inspections of the lines, bridges and other structures had uncovered no evidence of vandalism or attempts to sabotage operations. But he urged members of the group to continue to consider safety issues and to “respect the law and… not interfere with rail operations.”
A statement issued by RCMP spokeperson Sgt. Peter Thiessen said the demonstrators “were respectful of the police and the process that was required to affect their arrest as a result of their actions.” In return, RCMP allowed them to make a brief statement to reporters at the scene before they were arrested.
SFU professor Dr. Mark Jaccard, a Canadian energy-environment economist and member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and environmental activist Kevin Washbrook were also among protesters who walked onto the tracks carrying a large banner, after being tipped by spotters in the U.S. that a coal train was on its way.
While announced last week as a 24-hour protest that was to begin at midnight Friday, a fluctuating group of some 25 to 40 protesters had gathered near the tracks – in the 15000-block of Marine Drive near the white rock – starting around 7 a.m. Saturday.
Amtrak and BNSF were given advance notice of the protest, and White Rock RCMP and CN Police were on hand throughout to ensure the safety of the protesters and the public, Thiessen said.
Nix had nothing but praise for RCMP members present, particularly White Rock detachment commander, Staff Sgt. Lesli Roseberry.
“She made it clear to us that her job was to protect our right to dissent, but also to protect public safety,” he said, adding that Roseberry had pointed out some potential safety issues connected with stopping a train in a public place.
Nix said the protest had been in the works for six months – including some secret “dry-runs” – and had gone mostly according to logistical planning. It resulted in the desired media attention and the chance to discuss the group’s views with passersby, who, he said, seemed mostly concerned about coal traffic.
“One person called me a blockhead, which, I suppose, in one day, isn’t bad,” he said.
Nix said the group does not rule out future protests.
“It went as well as we imagined a first event would happen,” he said, acknowledging it had been a surprise to find the railway had obtained a B.C. Supreme Court injunction against the blockade.
“I’m told this is not usual, but, in this case, the railway made a pre-emptive strike.”
He added one of the protesters’ main concerns was getting arrested for contempt of court. “We did not want to be charged with contempt of court – we have nothing against the police or the courts.”
Had they been charged with contempt, Nix said, they would not have an option of having the case heard in court. Challenging their fines, which those arrested will likely discuss, could mean a further opportunity to argue their case, he added.
Protests against coal-fired plants have been successfully defended in Europe, Nix said, on the grounds of necessity – “the necessity to protect future generations.”
Getting the message to the public that fossil fuels need to be stopped is paramount, he said.
“We may fail, we may succeed, but that doesn’t change the fact we have to try,” Nix said.
“This is not just about coal trains and the police and the courts. This about you and I, and political leadership, and the need to act.”
The weekend’s protest is just the beginning, he added.
“It has to be, to make the point. This (the alleged impact of fossil fuels on climate change) is a historic crisis. If we did this once and went home, then what’s the point?”